JERUSALEM POST BLOG 9 – Pyjamas
My email gives a soft “pling”. Suzan delivers the latest office updates. It’s that time again. During the holy month of Ramadan working hours will be from eight to four instead of nine to five. The rich meals at sundown to break fast take some time to prepare. There’s shopping to do, and no one wishes to be stuck in the evening rush hour.
It’s a tough month, if only to bear my colleagues’ self-flagellation with regard to weight, and waistline. If this is true for those who actually abstain from food in the daytime, it holds double so for those who don’t. God has flexible hours, and most of my coworkers have noticed the shocking lack of lightning bolts, crackling down from the sky to smite nibblers of ye olde potato chips, deep-fried chicken, or other edible substances. On the streets at least, the taboo remains, and the roadside restaurant where I usually purchase a delectable omelet sandwich for lunch is closed now. I make do with regular shops and self-assembly.
Every year though, a temporary, inexplicable panic grips me on the first day of Ramadan. The anxiety compares roughly to youthful nightmares of showing up at school wearing pyjamas and slippers. What if I forget about the whole not-eating thing, and find myself munching away at a Twix bar on Ruqab Street? Lo and behold, the other day I blithely wandered into a juice parlor, realizing my mistake a mere second before soundlessly mouthing the word “orange”. I quickly apologized, smacking myself on the forehead.
Samer, who wears an inversed baseball cap and a thick American accent, quickly reassured me, pointing to a discrete corner where a large fridge shields against the zealous. “We have a lot of foreigners come in and they can drink over there.” He smiles affably. “Otherwise there’s always take-away.” Business is business.
Meanwhile, in the early, early morning, a man paid by the municipality bangs together pots and pans to remind one to start eating. With popularity ratings comparable to those of George W. he can expect occasionally to be shouted at, or at the very least feature in a joke or two over lunch or coffee breaks in town.
Regardless of whether you fast or not, everyone enjoys the special Ramadan soap operas on TV. These series, often set in a historical epoch of the Arabian past, are a veritable lingua franca from the pious hills of Hebron, to restive Jenin, Nablus under never-ending siege, laid-back Jericho, and Godless Ramallah. There, on the very first night of Ramadan, a Christmas Eve of sorts, I found myself scouting for a place that served alcohol. A friend’s birthday occasioned celebrating and we wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Serendipity however was taking time off it seemed, and by midnight we’d had only soft drinks and sakhlab, a delicious milky drink with coconut and walnut. Then, somewhat despondent, slouching toward a taxi, the wall-mounted neon of one of the city’s finer hotels beckoned. “Could it be?” The hotel in question, rumored to temporarily house some of the Fatah brass from Gaza, was our last hope.
We found their bar closed, but no, they didn’t mind opening up for just the two of us. Our leap of faith had paid off. There was a birthday to be celebrated after all, and to be sure, a moment later, we sat struggling behind a mountain of cake. It digested easily, what with all the Taybeh beer, Jameson, and assorted social ills that celebratory hubris could afford. The bartender waited patiently, only interrupted by my requests to “please” inform us if they wanted to close up and go home. “No, no, it’s not a problem,” the young man said, doing his best to cater to our musical tastes as well. Business, after all, is business.
A week later meanwhile, the usual watering holes have reopened, and a chilly fall breeze has picked up around the nightly hills of Ramallah. Another summer’s gone. The new pyjama season has arrived.